What has happened to the British government's "review" into the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK?
The "review" (officials have been careful not to refer to it as an '"inquiry") into the Muslim Brotherhood's "philosophy and values and alleged connections with extremism and violence" was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron almost a year ago. At a press conference, he said that Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, would lead the review. Explaining the need for such a process, Mr. Cameron said:
"What I think is important about the Muslim Brotherhood is that we understand what this organisation is, what it stands for, what its beliefs are in terms of the path of extremism and violent extremism, what its connections are with other groups, what its presence is here in the United Kingdom. Our policies should be informed by a complete picture of that knowledge."
This is indeed something that is important. So why, a year later, have the findings of this review still not been published?
From the outset, the whole process has been subject to considerable public and private criticism, not to say opposition. Those people in the commentariat and political class who are generally uncritical of non-violent extremism (or rather "not violent, here, for the time-being" extremism) protested against conducting the Muslim Brotherhood review from the outset. Last year, for instance, the Financial Times quoted a "senior government figure," saying that the investigation "Cuts against what the FCO has already been doing in this area... It risks turning supporters of a moderate, non-violent organisation that campaigns for democracy into radicals."
This was a particularly revealing statement: it showed that apart from anything else, there were, from the outset, people at the very top of government who think that the Muslim Brotherhood is a harmless, pro-democracy group that is being unfairly and unhelpfully maligned. This is not the view of many experts on Middle Eastern politics. And it is certainly not the view of the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, who has described the Muslim Brotherhood as "at heart a terrorist organisation." It also revealed the thinking in at least part of Britain's political class.
There were also complaints from those who saw the review as only having been ordered because it was in fact some type of political or religious sectarian set-up. There were claims that the UK government had only ordered this process at the behest of the Egyptian government – which branded the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group again in 2013, after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-run government. Others claimed that the review had been ordered at the behest of the Saudis – a line bolstered by the appointment of Sir John Jenkins.
Despite these objections, Sir John got on with his review. Experts were called in over the course of several months and the review itself was finished some months ago. So why has nobody seen it?
For some time, the stalling has been put down to an issue of "sensitivity." There are allied countries, potentially banks and certain figures in authority in allied countries, who may not come out well from Sir John's review. It is also likely that prominent Muslim Brotherhood figures in the UK have been identified by name. Any and all of these people could have objected to being identified. One rumour in Westminster for some time has been that Muslim Brotherhood leaders, or the organisation as a whole, had considered issuing an injunction against the Prime Minister to prevent the publication of the report. How the Muslim Brotherhood could issue an injunction against a British Prime Minister in the British courts is uncertain, but there are certainly likely to be libel and other issues around.
Of course, these problems are fairly easy to get around by issuing a heavily redacted version of the report while keeping the full version for official use only. Indeed, before the latest stall it was expected that there would be a publication only of a two-page summary of the review's main findings. But now it seems that even this will not be able to be released. So what is going on?
The UK government is running close to the period in which no more releases of potentially political information can be presented from Whitehall. This period, before the election, is generally referred to as "purdah." The UK is about to enter this period, and the Muslim Brotherhood review is not the only document likely to become a victim. The British government has yet to release its new counter-extremism strategy. This long-awaited document was meant to be launched in January, but infighting at the top of the coalition government has delayed it. Credible reports say that the coalition has stalled over the refusal of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (leader of the Liberal Democrats) to endorse measures which would, among other things, stop extremist preachers and recruiters touring UK universities.
The counter-extremism strategy was meant to be released on the same day as the Muslim Brotherhood review. But now both are about to fall afoul of the pre-election deadline, and thus fall into post-election publication. That, of course, is precisely what Nick Clegg and other officials who are soft on extremism would like. Their hope is that the Conservative Party does not become the largest party after May 5th, so that both the extremism strategy and the Muslim Brotherhood review are not merely being kicked into the long grass but will, in fact, never see the light of day.
This is, it must be said, politics at its very worst. The Muslim Brotherhood has wreaked havoc for decades. Its desire to carry out coups and to rule Middle Eastern countries according to the rule of a hardline interpretation of Islamic law is not ancient history – it is very recent history. Britain has for some years now been the major global hub for these revolutionaries to fundraise, organize and dip in and out of whenever they are in or out of power.
Muhammad Ghanem, the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, is shown here speaking on live television from London, in 2011. (Image source: MEMRI)
A decent democracy would not behave towards its public, allies and friends like this. When countries harbour Britain's enemies, we rightly regard those countries as less than friendly toward us. If Britain fails to publish the Muslim Brotherhood review, it will not just show that the country is unreliable to its friends and even to its own citizens. It will show that it is outstandingly weak in the face of our society's most obvious enemies.